Originally published 26 September 1997
door of Irving Moskowitz's home near the Montefiore windmill in Yemin Moshe,
Jerusalem's first Jewish neighborhood built outside the ancient walls a century
ago, was barred and bolted. The shutters were sealed. A gossipy neighbor
said the owners were seldom there, two or three days at a time, then off
It was noon on Friday, Sept. 19, barely 14 hours after three
Jewish tenant families had evacuated houses bought by the Miami-based bingo
magnate in the Arab neighborhood of Ras al-Amud on the other, eastern side
of the Old City.
Earlier in the week, Moskowitz had stood in that
gritty, neglected urban village on the flank of the Mount of Olives, hammering
a mezuzah on a door post and telling the world's TV cameras that this was
where "we" are making "our" home. Yet the truth was that as soon as he had
signed a face-saving deal with the government of Israel, he was on the plane
back to Florida in time for Shabbat.
His swift departure reinforced
the deep resentment felt by many Israelis, including some on the right and
center of the political spectrum, at this transatlantic millionaire's latest
intrusion in their fate. His initiative was undermining Binyamin Netanyahu's
hopes of convincing Madeleine Albright that he was genuinely seeking peace
with the Palestinians; was playing into Yasser Arafat's hands by switching
the international focus back from Islamist terror to Jewish settlement; and
was frightening even more Israelis away from shopping malls and markets targeted
by the Hamas bombers.
The Jerusalem Post, which has often championed
a right of Jews to live anywhere in the ancestral homeland, commented in
an editorial: "It is clear to all that the motives of those who moved into
Ras al-Amud are not to promote Jewish-Arab harmony, despite Moskowitz's talk
of building a well-baby clinic for Arab children, but to assert Jewish sovereignty
with their physical presence.
"Such a move is unnecessary. Just as
secular Jews do not need to move into [ultra-Orthodox] Mea She'arim to prove
that Israel is a modern, democratic state, so too is there no need for Jews
to move into the heart of Arab areas of the capital to prove Israel's hold
A Post cartoonist, Meir Ronen, showed a skullcapped
Moskowitz steering the good ship "Jerusalem," while Prime Minister Netanyahu
fumes in the passenger seat.
The Ras al-Amud episode has provoked
Israelis to draw an uncomfortable line -- yes, we want your greenbacks, but,
no, we can't let you make our life-and-death decisions.
who launched his career on the back of American donors wooed while he was
still a diplomat in Washington and New York, diffidently reminded Moskowitz
that it was the sovereign government of Israel which must choose where to
settle Jews in Jerusalem, not individuals, even if (as in Moskowitz's case)
they have bought the land and have a legal right to develop it.
Sarid, leader of the leftist Meretz opposition party, was less inhibited.
No one has ever accused Sarid of taking money from Irving Moskowitz. He urged
the police to stop Moskowitz leaving the country. "It is totally unacceptable,"
he told me, "that a foreigner comes to Israel and acts like an elephant in
a china shop. If everything blows up, he will not be here to be blown up
with us. He endangers my life, the lives of my loved ones, the lives of the
whole nation. That's why I asked the police not to let him leave, so that
he will stay with us, but I know that he won't."
has emerged as a major secondary issue, again churning up the muddy waters
of Israeli-Diaspora relations. It has been widely reported in the Israeli
press that Moskowitz had bankrolled Netanyahu, Internal Security Minister
Avigdor Kahalani and Jerusalem Mayor Ehud Olmert. These were the three coalition
politicians who could have stopped the Ras al-Amud adventure but didn't.
Was this pay-up time? Kahalani, a hero of the 1973 Yom Kippur War, negotiated
the unstable compromise that allowed Moskowitz to evacuate the settler families
but leave a minyan of 10 yeshiva students behind, ostensibly to guard and
renovate his property.
Moskowitz admitted, in an interview with Yediot
Aharonot in August, that he had given money to Netanyahu, but he did not
disclose how much or when. The prime minister's spokesman, Shai Bazak, denied
that he had received any financial support during the 1996 election, which,
under a 1994 law, would have been illegal. Bazak would not, however, discuss
any earlier donations.
Kahalani confirmed that Moskowitz had donated
to the "Golan for Israel" campaign, which evolved into his Third Way Party.
The party chairman, Yehuda Harel, told me that the sum was less than the
$1 million quoted by Ha'aretz. But other Third Way activists insist that
it was in that region. (Foreigners may donate to movements but not to registered
parties. New contenders, such as the former Soviet prisoner Natan Sharansky,
often postpone announcing that they intend to run for election until they
have raised a campaign chest.)
Olmert denied that he had received
"a single penny" from Moskowitz for his 1993 mayoral campaign, but the two
men are close political friends. Olmert shares the American's ambition to
blur the invisible border between Jewish and Arab Jerusalem. Moskowitz is
named as a major donor on a plaque near the entrance to the archaeological
tunnel alongside the Temple Mount, which sparked a bloody Israeli-Palestinian
confrontation a year ago this month. Olmert was the man who pressed for it
to be opened.
Unlike his predecessor, Teddy Kollek, Olmert treated
the unruly Ateret Cohanim yeshiva, for which Moskowitz bought houses in the
Moslem quarter of the Old City, as a legitimate settlement group. More recently,
he told me that he had influenced Moskowitz to put Ras al-Amud on a back
burner. Neither the government nor the city needed another conflagration
at this delicate time. Moskowitz, it turned out, had his own imperatives.
All rights reserved by author.